Contentment

Valley of the Shadow: Living Life in the Now and in the Not Yet

It’s been six months since we left Korea and even as life here becomes more and more familiar, the loss of our life there still feels fresh and raw. Every day I experience some level of emotional tension between genuine contentment with our lives here and a deep longing for the lives we left behind.

As the months have passed I’ve become more and more certain of one thing – it’s hard for me to imagine a life where we never live abroad again. Living in Korea was hard in many ways –especially when it came to being so far from our families and friends—but it was also the greatest thing we’ve ever done and it changed our lives forever. The takeaway was overwhelmingly positive and I only regret that we didn’t do it sooner.

I’ve written about my struggle with FOBO (fear of being ordinary), but along with that (or maybe the source of that) is a somewhat crippling fear of Time. Sometimes I can’t help but look at my life as a clock that’s always ticking down. I know that I am young, but I can see the process of aging already beginning in my body. There are wrinkles on my forehead and bags under my eyes and my back hurts when I sleep on a bed with a soft mattress.

I don’t want to be young forever for vanity’s sake, but often Time feels like a cruel restraint on my dreams. For several years I’ve been intrigued by the idea of getting a working holiday visa in a place like Australia or New Zealand or the UK and spending a season or so living in one of these places while earning a small income to support (or somewhat support) living there. Just yesterday, I was reminded that these types of visas are only available to people who are 18 – 30 years old and have no children. When Jonathan graduates from his program he will be one month shy of his 31st birthday and the clock will have run out on this dream.

Not to mention the whole having children thing –a decision that is constantly hovering in the background as each year passes and we collect more and more unsolicited advice on decreasing fertility rates and the problem with being old parents.

I wonder if this is my version of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I live and love and move and be here in this valley and much of the time I’m even quite happy here, but all the while this shadow of death hangs over me and over us all. In the Psalm, David says he fears no evil as he walks through this place, but I am not like him. I don’t fear death itself as an eventuality, but I do fear that it will come too quickly and that I will have too little to show for my life.

You might say this fear of death and of missed opportunities is sinful and that a person of faith shouldn’t cling so tightly to life. That I should have confidence in eternity and be expectant of the life to come. All of this is probably true, but the fact remains that I can’t always change my feelings or what’s in my heart. Only God molds hearts and I am not God.

I hope and pray that my heart does change, but until then I have a choice to make. It is easy for me to get so caught up in not wasting my future that I end up wasting my present.I am here in Columbia, South Carolina for at least 2 ½ more years and I can either live here pining away in fear that I won’t make it to the next, more exciting thing, or I can live here fully and accept that THIS is my next exciting thing.

Because in the end, what would be more of a waste – living well for 3 years in a place that doesn’t feel sexy and exciting to me, or getting to the end of our time here and realizing that I’ve wasted 3 whole years of my life thinking about where else I might be?

There is always tension between living fully where we are and planning for where we are going. I need the grace to live in the now while I hold onto hope for the not yet.

Image credit: HealingHeartsofIndy.com
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The Things I Carry from 2015 and my One Word for 2016

I lived a hundred different lives in 2015. The adventurous expat, the patient teacher, the homesick little girl, the intrepid world traveler, the anxiety-ridden dependent, the supportive wife, the optimistic partner, the heartbroken friend. I have felt a hundred incongruous emotions — hopeful and discouraged, excited and apathetic, inspired and utterly disengaged, generous and self-protective, joyful and bitterly sad. I’ve traveled through 7 countries and made a 6,000 mile move. Each separate life and identity is self-contained like a square on a quilt, inextricably connected to the whole and meaningless without it.

I move forward into 2016 marked by the experiences of this past year and of all the years that came before it. I carry them with me like the very cells of my body. Who I am today is shaped by what I did yesterday and last year and in the years before that. But who I will be tomorrow depends on what I choose to do with today.

There are dozens of ways I’d like to change, but when I think of all the things I need to do better I don’t feel inspired to step into a new year – I feel too overwhelmed to even know where to start. I need to eat better, to exercise more, to drink more water, to be less selfish, to love better, to make more time for writing, to travel, to explore, to learn a new language or skill, to be a better friend, to volunteer, to blog more consistently, to stop whining so much, to pray more, to be more organized.

Last year I abandoned my list of resolutions in favor of just One Word. The idea of One Word is to get rid of your list and to choose a single word to focus on for a whole year. “One word that sums up who you want to be and how you want to live.”

In 2015, I chose the word “Wholehearted.” It was a big word that encompassed an entire way of looking at the world. I’m not finished with wholeheartedness – becoming wholehearted is a lifelong journey – but I have chosen a new word to represent 2016. My word is Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is “a state of active, open attention on the present. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” Mindfulness is something I profess to believe in deeply, but fail to put into practice.

From the time I was a young child I learned to disassociate. This began as a coping mechanism for me, a way of dealing with my anxiety, but it grew into a habit. There is a restlessness in me that causes me to grow bored and discontented easily, and when I’m no longer entertained, challenged, or excited, I tend to disengage.

There is nothing more terrifying to me than the thought of living an ordinary life, but most of life is made of ordinary moments. How much of mine do I miss by checking out and simply going through the motions while I dream of being somewhere else? This year, I want to learn to be present for my own life.

The poet Mary Oliver writes often about what it means to pay attention to the world. In her famous poem “The Summer Day” she writes:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I believe that nothing is without meaning if we only pay attention to it. And I believe that I can waste my one wild and precious life not through big mistakes, but through day after day of failing to pay attention and just going through the motions.

I am setting my intention this year on just one thing – growing in Mindfulness. I will choose to be present for my every day life. I want to learn to see the extraordinary wrapped up in my ordinary days and to collect evidences of grace that shine true even when the days are dark.

If you’ve chosen One Word for 2016, leave a comment below and share what you chose and what it means to you. 

Header image via: The Huffington Post

Chock-Full of Ugly: Discontentment, Depression and Making Room for Joy

Last August my husband and I packed up our apartment, stored our belongings, sold our cars, crammed everything we thought we couldn’t live without into 4 suitcases and took a one-way flight to South Korea. We were going to teach, something neither of us had any experience doing. We didn’t know anyone in Korea and we didn’t speak the language. The plan seemed foolproof.

After three years of marriage and three years of working dead-end jobs – watching friends finish graduate school, start the careers they dreamed of, and begin buying houses and starting families, I felt stuck. I felt stuck in spite of the fact that we had moved across the country, just to try something new. I felt stuck in spite of my changing jobs every summer since college, consistently growing to hate whatever my current job was and searching for something better. I felt stuck even though I loved North Carolina, lived within meters of my best friend, had two fantastic cats, and had been able to do some traveling each year. In spite of all of that, the disquiet inside of me was unrelenting.

And so, we struck out across the sea. To a continent neither of us had stepped foot on before. To a country I’d honestly never even considered visiting. We went in pursuit of adventure and new opportunities and a fuller life. I thought living abroad would mean an end to boredom. An end to feeling trapped in the tedium of the jobs I’d held before. An end to the monotony of the ordinary American life, and an end to unhappiness and discontentment.

It took only a few months for the newness to rub off and suddenly Korea was no longer a shiny and alluring dream to chase, but a somewhat dull and ever-present reality. The novelty of being immersed in a new culture gave way to the everyday challenges of being misunderstood and the frustration of feeling like a child again, unable to properly do something as basic as ordering food in a restaurant or answering the telephone. Every small aspect of life being just a little more complicated and a little more confusing than it should be soon became exhausting instead of thrilling. As the winter came and the weather became colder and grayer, I found myself, once again, struggling. Struggling to be positive. Struggling to pull myself out of bed and head to work in the morning. Struggling to care about blow-drying my hair and dressing nicely. Struggling to eat well instead of ordering McDonald’s delivery and lying in bed until it arrived. Struggling to connect with my husband instead of sinking into my own little Downton Abbey world at the end of each day. Struggling to go through the motions of another day that is as ordinary as daily life was at home, except that now ordinary includes not understanding half of what happens around me.

Although intellectually I always understood this, it wasn’t until we’d picked up and moved across the world that I fully realized that no matter where you are, the rituals of daily life just are mundane. Even in Korea I have responsibilities. I have to get up and go to work on time. I have to do the laundry and clean the apartment and cook dinner and buy groceries. Yes, there are new things for me to explore every weekend if I want to. Yes, I have a job that doesn’t feel as pointless and soul-sucking as my marketing job did. Yes, I have opportunities to travel and see new things I never dreamed I’d see. Those are the things that make this experience the best decision we’ve ever made. But in my day to day life I can find just as many things to complain about, just as many things that weigh me down or to make me unhappy as I did back home.

For years I have wrestled with discontentment. I have been the master of convincing myself (beyond all logic and in complete contradiction to the Apostle Paul’s assertion that he had learned “to be content in every circumstance”) that the reason I was discontent was because of one particular set of circumstances or another. That life would be better when the next thing came. That I would be better. I told myself I would be content once I went to college, had a boyfriend, graduated from college, got married, stopped nannying and found a real job, moved somewhere new, quit my new job, went back to school, lost weight, had more friends, took an exciting vacation, moved abroad…

Sometimes this was true. Going away to college made me infinitely happier than I was in high school. Getting married has been the richest and best experience of my life. Quitting my marketing job helped me realize that I am not cut out for a desk job. And moving to Korea and the travel we’ve been able to do since we came has made me feel alive in a way that nothing else ever has. But in the end none of those things were a permanent fix. Three weeks or four months or a year later, there was always something else for me to be dissatisfied with.

I’m not a “sad person.” I laugh easily, and often. But those who know me best can see that there is often an underlying sense of dissatisfaction with life and frustration with myself for being that way.

Because even though I have made change after change after change (and some of them have been wonderful) I have carried the root of the problem inside of me like a cancer. Living in Korea has objectively been a wonderful experience, but Korea doesn’t have the ability to make me happy. Because I brought pessimism and discontentment and a tendency towards depression here with me.

I understand the difference between happiness and joy. That happiness is temporary because it is affected by our circumstances, but joy is something you can possess even when you’re unhappy with your circumstances. But I also know that discontentment leaves very little room for joy. And for me, sometimes discontentment’s uglier cousin, depression, can fill up all the space inside of me until there isn’t any room for joy to grow.

Coming to Korea has changed me in some positive ways. I am no longer waiting for the next great thing. I no longer tell myself that I will be happier or more content when I reach the next milestone. I think of Korea, and this time living abroad, as our great adventure. I don’t in any way think life will be miserable after this, but I also feel that this may be the biggest and craziest thing we do. That there might not be a “bigger” thing after this. And I don’t want to live my life constantly looking forward to what’s ahead. I want to live a life that is full of wonder. I want to soak up beauty like a sponge and know wisdom’s voice. I want to know that things are real because I’ve seen them and touched them with my own hands. I want to be willing to give of myself with no thought to how tired it will make me. I want to learn to love the whole world. And I want to learn to love myself.

This is the life I want and yet, this winter has been dark, friends. Some days I’ve wanted to let it swallow me. To lay down in my bed and not get up again until spring. This isn’t because my life is horrible or even particularly difficult. This has nothing to do with my actual circumstances. This is because I am broken.

I’ve been depressed before. The scary kind of depressed. I’m not quite in that place. I’m not unhappy about my life– there are so many things that I am truly, deeply grateful for. I’m not incapable of feeling joy. There are many moments when I am deeply, wildly happy. The problem seems to lie in my inability to rest in that joy and let it color my more monotonous days. Many days I lack either the will or the skills to let those precious, joyful moments weigh heavier and count more than the gray sky and the sour smell of rotting kimchi on the street.

I wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the fight for joy wasn’t quite so hard. When I didn’t reach the end of each day exhausted from the energy it took for me just to smile, to be kind and to stay engaged that day. I’ve tried to change. I even tried to writing 1,000 Gifts like Saint Ann Voskamp and was pretty pissed off when I was not magically transformed by gratitude. (By the way, that is not a dig at Ann Voskamp who I think is wonderful person and whose book and blog you should read.) It’s possible that this is the result of chemicals in my brain or hormones in my body misfiring, keeping me unbalanced, my whole being in turmoil because of some rogue element. But even if that’s part of it, I know deep down it’s not the whole thing. I know there is a core to this problem that is spiritual. It is a disquiet that comes being dissatisfied with myself. From the questions I have been afraid to ask. The truths I’m not always sure I believe. The prayers I pray and the ones that I don’t want to.

Here in Korea, I have been given the gift of space and the time to do some of the deep work I need to do. To wade through the muck inside of me and to start giving a voice to the questions. To start expressing the doubts. To expose the darkness I see in myself. To admit how much it scares me. To see if Grace might intervene.

I want to live an extraordinary life. But I can’t do it when I’m crammed full of ugliness . So maybe it’s time to stop waiting for the next thing to come. Maybe it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. Maybe it’s time to beg Grace to show me how to carve out space for joy.

Saving Up Questions for Heaven – Learning to Live Questions Without Answers

I am starting my fourth week as a nanny (again!) and so far it’s been a breath of fresh air. I’ll admit, these kids lead a pretty privileged life – beautiful home that’s been professionally decorated, closets full of clothes that are much nicer than mine, tennis lessons, karate, gymnastics and dance. They are not believers and they certainly have their bratty moments (as most kids do), but they also have plenty of moments when they are sweet and fun and overall I am glad I get to hang out with them instead of sitting at a computer all day.  It’s true that I have been going to sleep at like 9:30 every night, because running around with the kids is much more physically demanding than my desk job was, but I am much less emotionally and mentally exhausted. I just can’t get over the contrast between what I do now and what I was doing at my old job.

Office job: Spend 3 hrs changing the amount of square footage available in a set of buildings in every print and electronic marketing piece in existence.

Nanny job: Spend 3 hrs swimming at a pool with a pretty cool water slide and getting tanned.

Office job: Rainy mornings mean a lot of yawning and extra coffee while editing lease proposals.

Nanny job: Rainy mornings mean going to the movies and getting paid to watch Madagascar 3.

Office job: Working with boys means putting up with crude humor and bad language.

Nanny job: Working with a boy means learning how to play Pokemon battle (yes, apparently that’s still around.)

I think there’s a clear winner and a clear loser here! This week is the last official week of summer for the kiddos. After school starts, I will only be with working in the afternoons to early evenings and will be able to devote my mornings to increasingly long runs (yuck!), reading, writing, baking, and, when my semester starts at the end of September, online classes.

I am genuinely happy about the job change, even if nannying again isn’t the impressive career-path I think I should be on. I am mindful of my own tendency towards discontentment and have been asking God to help me keep my willfull heart in check by practicing gratitude in the midst of many still-unanswered questions. And I think the kids sort of help me with that in some ways.

Kids ask a million questions – if they can do things, have things, go places – as well as constant questions about the world around them. In just the past few weeks I have been asked all of the following:

Which is better for you, wine or beer? (I said neither was good for you, but maybe wine was a little better because you usually drink less of it?)

How do you get money?

Why don’t you have any children?

S, when her mom asked if she wanted to have all of her initials monogrammed on her first day of school dress or just an S – “Can it say something different? Could it say Party Time?”

I wonder what God looks like? (S told me she thinks He is green like broccoli. No idea why.)

As funny and sometimes annoying as kids are with all of the questions they want answers to, I can’t help but find it endearing because I see so much of myself in that. I think God must also look at me sometimes and think, “Stop asking me questions! Why do you need to know? It’s not important, I can take care of it.” Or “Why would you even ask that?”

There are still a lot of things I don’t understand about what God’s plan for J and I—why neither of us seems to be able to figure out what we really want to do or should be doing and where God’s hand is in what feels like random wandering. And then the questions of whether it’s more important to do something that makes you a bit happier on a day-to-day basis but doesn’t pay very well (giving you fewer opportunities to pursue the things you care about) or to do something you don’t really care about but that makes enough money to enable you to pursue the things you do care about? Not to mention my own questions about God – who he is and how he is good and why when I read the Exodus story I feel sorry for the Egyptians instead of feeling amazed at God’s deliverance.

There is a quote from a poet I love that I was reminded of recently and have taken a lot of comfort from. Rilke was a German poet who wrote during the beginning of the 20th century. This passage comes from Letters to a Young Poet.

“I beg you…to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer…” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

So, here I am – attempting to live everything – to live today fully, whether it brings joy and laughter, or frustration and more unanswered questions—and to strive to see all these things as threads of a tapestry whose pattern I cannot see yet because I won’t be able to understand it until it’s completed. And to believe with hope that one day, without even noticing it, I will have lived my way into the answers, so that those questions won’t seem to matter anymore.

The Ghetto-est Car in America

A few weeks ago my mom called me to say that my grandparents wanted to buy a new car for my grandmother. Her car is six years old and she barely so much as drives it to the grocery store by herself. It’s a 2006, only has 50,000 miles on it, has four brand new tires, and is in great shape from extremely little use. So my mom asked my grandpa if he would consider selling it to Jonathan and I for the trade-in value if we were interested. He said sure. So she contacted us about it.

While we hadn’t been planning on purchasing a new car until one or both of ours die, the opportunity to buy a used car from people we know took care of it well and that is in such good condition was appealing. Furthermore, this car would ironically look LESS like a grandma-car than the car I currently drive. We decided to try to make it work and gave Mom the go-ahead.

The next day I get a text from my mom saying that my grandpa (who is a lot of wonderful things, but patient is not one of them) had decided he wanted the new car immediately and had driven straight to the dealer to trade the old one in. So, no car for us. It was probably definitely better for us financially anyway not to have to come up with money for a car unexpectedly. But I think this is when I started to let myself feel all of the emotions I had previously been keeping at bay about my car.

My car is an 11 year old Toyota Camry. It has 110,000 miles on it. It’s been from Louisiana to Chicago and back. And from Chicago to Ohio multiple times. And from Chicago to North Carolina. And from North Carolina to Ohio and back multiple times. And from North Carolina to New York and back. And from North Carolina to Louisiana and back. You get the picture.

My parents gave me this car when I was a senior in high school. It was a 2001 (so already 5 years old when I got it) and already had the bra because all of the paint had peeled off of the front. Although initially I was a little bummed that it looked like a car my grandma would drive and was probably the ugliest color regularly manufactured (I didn’t get any say in picking it out) I quickly got over its appearance and was thankful to have a functional car that was all mine. I even tried to come up with an affectionate name for it to make me feel like we were bonding (I think I was calling it Rupert for a while, but it never really stuck.) I have never been in an accident in this car and I have never been pulled over in this car. And the car has never broken down on me (although I have had at least 4 flat tires in it.)

This car and I have had six beautiful years together, including 4 Chicago winters, but  it has suffered quite the decline from its originally precarious perch on the “decent” rung. The decline has been gradual, I’ll admit, and I’ve been pretty good natured about it, but I have finally reached the point of being genuinely ashamed to drive the thing, much less park it in the front of the house of the family I am about to be nannying for (with its white pillars and bricked circular driveway.)

Let me show you what I mean:

No paint on the front, hence the car-bra. We actually got the bra right when we bought the car because all of the paint had peeled off of the front bumper.  This is just one of many spots where the bra has ripped and tattered shreds of it dangle from the bottom of the car.

Also, in this photo, no hubcaps. I lost these all within the space of two weeks one winter while I was in college. My theory is that when I had my tires rotated, they weren’t put on tightly enough. Either that or someone followed me around for two weeks and stole my plastic wheel covers one at a time.

Two missing door handles. The result of harsh winters when my doors were frozen shut. The driver’s door handle I pulled off myself, but it’s only ¾ of the way broken and still functional. The back passenger handle was ripped off by a man called Bob who worked for Public Safety and was supposed to be “helping” me get into my car after a particularly icy day and 30 minutes of trying on my own in sub-zero temperatures. I’ve been missing these handles for 3 ½ years.

Loud squeak when opening doors. Ok, seriously. This is what my car sounds like every time someone gets in or out of it.   My Car Door Noise.

Broken cupholders. So that people will stop being lazy and hold their own cups already!

Cracked windshield. Happened my first week in North Carolina before we had even moved into our apartment. Rock hit the windshield. Crack had traveled all the way across within 3 days.

Inside door handle broken. A fairly new development (I think since April.) I went to open my door and discovered the plastic surrounding the handled had cracked off. I was still able to get the door open with some careful maneuvering of the handle, but a few weeks later Jonathan drove my car, yanked on the handle like normal, and pulled the sucker right out. I now have to roll down my window and reach over and open the door with the (broken) outside handle. This is especially awesome when showing up at work in my nice work clothes, arriving at an interview, or when trying to bring in groceries in the rain.

Giant dent in side plus yellow paint smears. My newest addition. This one is a little my fault, but also this idiot woman who I guess works in my building. My building is sort of unique in that it has a parking garage underneath it. The ground floor has restaurants and then floors 2-7 are the parking garage and the all of the offices are on top of that. So, anyway, when you turn into the parking garage from the road you make a sharp 90 degree right turn and then immediately start going straight up a steep ramp. So I was turning in a couple of weeks ago, swinging a little wide to get in because there is a bright yellow post a couple of feet from the wall right at the entrance. As I pull in, a woman in a suburban comes barreling down the ramp towards me way across the center line. So I pull further to the right and my back door clips the yellow post at the entrance. And she looks at me like “ Oh, sorry!” and waves before flooring it out onto the street. So now I have a post-shaped dent and post-colored paint all over my back door.

Blue book says that even in “Fair” condition I should be able to get $5,600 for this car if I sell it privately. But even though the car has no major mechanical issues (though it does need new brake pads, but how important is that, really?: ) ) and has been well-maintained on the engine-side of things, I can’t imagine anyone taking a look at this car and wanting to spend more than say $5 on it. Even my Christina, who I can count on to encourage me in all things, has told me there is no way in the world anyone would pay that much for my car. It’s not junky enough to be cool, but too gross for anyone to really want it.

It seems old Rupert and I are linked for life. (I am hoping to outlive him, but the way things are going, probably not.) Sure I find him annoying. Sure I am super-embarrassed whenever I have to roll down my window and reach out of the car to let myself out. Even in the rain. But you know what I keep telling myself? It runs. And I can get from point A to point B.  And I can even listen to a choice of 5 radio stations while I’m doing it. And even if my new employer makes me park it out of sight behind her house, I will resist the urge to hide my face in shame. Because this is America, dang it. And it’s not that easy to have the ghetto-est car in America.*

                                                                                                                                                                                                               

*I do actually realize that there are a few things that could make my car ghetto-er. I just was a little afraid to mention them before.

-Losing a window and replacing it with a trash bag

-Replacing a door, hood, or bumper with a part from a different colored car.

-One jillion bumper stickers

-Gluing trolls to every available surface like this poor (slash awesome) fellow in the great state of
Colorado. Just give me a few more years…

When I’m Angry With God

So, I know this isn’t a very kosher Christian thing to say, but I’m just gonna go ahead and say it – sometimes I feel really angry with God.

When we first arrived in Raleigh we didn’t know anyone except Christina (my college roommate), but we were so blessed to make friends relatively quickly through a couple we met at our church. They lead our community group and through their welcoming us in, we became friends with them as well as a group of other wonderful people. 

One of the things I have loved most about Raleigh has been the sense of belonging we have felt from those who have welcomed us in and made us a part of their community.  This was the first time in my adult life that I truly felt like I belonged where I was, that Jonathan and I had made friends with other couples who were in similar life-stages and we were, that people were involved in our lives and we were involved in theirs. A few months ago when we were considering moving again to pursue grad school opportunities, I was so torn between wanting to pursue opportunities and wanting to stay here in this place where I saw a potential future for us. And that future wasn’t based on the careers we have here (which are way out of our fields) or the educational opportunities we’ve found, but on the people we’ve come to love.

In case you are really confused, that isn’t the part that makes me angry. The part that’s made me angry is that God now seems to be taking these very good things away from us. Our sweet friends who lead our community group suddenly got a job opportunity in the Chicago area and are moving in the next month (ironically they are moving within a few miles of where we used to live before coming here.) A second couple in our group suddenly had to opportunity to buy a fantastic little house, but it is in Durham and they will likely be looking for a church/community closer to them.  Another girl from our group has been given the amazing opportunity to move to Scotland and work with a church plant there. So essentially, in one fell swoop, most of our community has fallen apart. (If you are one of our few friends sticking around, we are so very grateful for you!!!) Intellectually, I recognize that all of these things are good for our friends and that my happiness about where these people live is probably not God’s main priority. Haha. Deep down I know that truly loving people means wanting God’s best for them, even if it doesn’t feel like the best thing for you, so on that level I do rejoice to see God providing exciting opportunities for my friends. But that doesn’t make me happy about the situation.

Please understand, I know that there are many, many worse things that can happen (and have happened) in life than all of your friends moving away. I’m really not trying to make the case that this is the worst thing ever. But it has brought up some real frustration for me that is connected to something a lot bigger than whether or not I have a lot of friends nearby. And maybe that is something you can relate to, whatever your particular disappointments have been.

This may seem like a bit of an over-reaction, but I’ve been really discouraged since finding out about all of these changes. It’s not that any one of these people was some ultimate source of happiness for us, but I did find a lot of fulfillment in belonging to this group of people and growing alongside them. It genuinely has helped me through the struggles of not having a job that I love and not knowing what we should be doing in the future to feel that these relationships were the thing God had clearly placed in front of me. I felt that even if I couldn’t see God’s hand in other areas, I could see it in these relationships and I took it as a confirmation that we were in the right place, doing the right thing, even when it was difficult. And now it feels like that small measure of peace and security is being taken away. Additionally, I feel like things are moving forward in so many of our friends lives and I feel  stuck in so many ways. Directionless and without even a short-term goal.

Why is it that the things you want to stay the same are always changing while the things you wish would change seem stuck the way they are forever?

The whole experience has launched me (yet again) into that series of questions I can never seem to get away from. What am I doing here? What should I be doing? There are so many directions I thought my life might take and so far, it hasn’t taken any of those. I have never held a job that I really loved. In fact, I have a difficult time even thinking of a job I truly think I would love.  Some days I just want to give up and resign myself to living a boring life moving from one uninspiring job to the next just to make enough money to live on, but that terrifies me more than anything. I can seriously think of nothing worse than living a life with no adventure.

I feel like I’ve been asking God the same questions year after year, and he never throws me a bone. Sometimes I just want to scream, why did you make me this way and give me all of these desires and then leave me with no guidance about what to do with that? If my life is meant to be spent moving from one uninspiring job to the next just to make enough money to live, why would you give me this deep desire for my life to be meaningful?

And I know what you are thinking… “Depends on what you think is meaningful,” so let me put it this way. I don’t want or need an impressive career, and I don’t think I need to move to Bangladesh. I just want to be able to look back at the end of a day or a week or even just a year and put my finger on moments that mattered. Things that had eternal significance. And instead I find myself plowing through my workday, desperate to get home where I can get away from the stress of my office to make dinner and read books and watch tv shows and fall into bed exhausted by 10:00.

God has been very good to us. He has provided for us. He has given us more than we need to survive. And most importantly, he has given us himself. Maybe it’s sinful for me to even be asking for more. But I want more. I want to know what in this whole wide world I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Because today it just feels like I’m wasting it.

So, that’s where I am at today. Though I’m genuinely excited to see these friends follow God’s leading, I’m sad to be losing them, and I’m feeling  discouraged that God seems to be at work everywhere except in my life. And frankly, all of these feelings are making me really angry.

The good news is, I don’t think God’s freaking out that I’m mad at him. And I don’t think he’s surprised. I believe he knows me intimately. That he understands the way my mind works and what triggers my emotions. That he loves me in my brokenness and foolishness. But somehow, on a day like today, none of those things are particularly comforting to me. Mostly, they are just making me a little more angry.

The Wrong Person: Sometimes the Source of All my Problems is Me

Fall in North Carolina is glorious. For nearly three months if I sat up tall in my chair and looked through the pane of glass that makes up one wall of my cube, and through the open door of the executive’s office across from me and out through his window, I could see the rolling ribbons of saffron and rust and candy apple red trees running over the hills below us. And then, suddenly, in what felt like one afternoon, all of those precious jewels of leaves gave up and fell, leaving behind skeleton trees with their lonely, brittle branches.

This past weekend I celebrated my 24th birthday. Or rather, I observed it. It didn’t feel like much of a celebration. This was the first birthday I haven’t looked forward to. The first one I’ve secretly wished wouldn’t come. I know that in the grand scheme of things I am still very young, but to me, this birthday, this day when I pause to note the passage of time, to acknowledge the days of my life slipping away, I felt disappointed and somewhat afraid. Disappointed that life isn’t what I hoped it would be. Afraid that it never will be.

I live a small life. A life I could step out of at any moment leaving very little behind me. It often feels like a life lived on a stationary bike where I peddle myself into a sweaty exhaustion without having actually gone anywhere. If my 18-year-old self saw me now, she would think I was a complete loser.

Several months ago, my mom sent me this book:

When I first started reading it, I found it so difficult to digest I had to put it down for several weeks. This book is written by a woman whose words speak to my brokenness and to my discontentment and offer another way. I see the beauty of her ideas, and the transformation God brought about in her life. She speaks about being thankful, something I blogged about myself in my last post several months ago. And yet, I often hate this woman. If I were to write her a letter, it would probably look something like this:

Dear Ann Voskamp, you write about seizing the gifts of everyday life in spite of the monotony with such beauty and power. And you have had your share of hardships, so I appreciate your struggle. But you live on a farm with the wonderful sweet earth under your feet and you cook your meals out of food your family has grown themselves. You have the miracle of six beautiful children you spend your days raising and teaching and loving. And yet you’ve managed to maintain your career as a writer. You have an incredibly successful book and a blog that thousands of people read and you do pieces for several major publishers. You also advocate for Compassion International which means you both help the poor and get to travel to amazingly beautiful exotic locations to do so. Dear Ann Voskamp, you live the literal exact life I dream for myself on a daily basis. This is the life you chose. What do you really have to be so discontent with?!

Perhaps, somehow, as incomprehensible as it is to me, this isn’t the life Ann dreamed of. Or perhaps her message speaks more to the ways we in our sinfulness make ourselves miserable no matter how ideal our situation is. The ways in which, truthfully, even when we have everything we could ever wish for, we can still dare to be discontented.

I love North Carolina. I love the beauty of our surroundings. I love our colorful little apartment. I love our church and the friends we have made. I feel so good about this place we are in. I don’t think this is the wrong place. I think perhaps I am the wrong person.

Many of my blogs have to do with being discontent, with searching for contentment and recognizing that I must learn to be content where I am and to see the gifts God has for me each day, but right now that doesn’t seem like it will ever be enough.  Because honestly, I want to be joyful where I am, but I don’t really want to be content where I am. Because I don’t want to stay here. And I’m afraid I will grow content in being purposeless. I don’t want to embrace a directionless life. I don’t want to turn 25 in a year still working a soulless job because I need the money, unable to get out of the rut.

I know the things that I love: words, reading and writing them, making people feel good about themselves, baking delicious things and giving them to people and that moment when they take a first bite and smile. Going to new countries and experiencing new cultures. Cuddling babies and the imaginations of small children.  Making my home lovely, and sharing it with my sweet husband.

These are all of the things I dream of, and to me, they don’t seem like such outrageous things to want. And yet, just this weekend my computer got a virus and died forever and one of the cars broke and needed hundreds of dollars of repairs. And these things feel like something heavy is pressing down on me, making it difficult for my lungs to take in enough precious oxygen, let alone give life to dreams. So I push the dreams aside. I become responsible. I do the things that must be done to make ends meet. And I wait and I pray that one day I will become the right person. Because until then, I think I will always be discontent, even if I suddenly got everything I ever wanted.